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YOUR PHN: Meeting the needs of our rural and regional communities.

Rural health access activity

Since the inception of the Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network (the PHN) in 2015, primary health care support and services have increased by a value of more than $45 million. The increase in primary health care support and services to the PHN’s rural and remote communities is due to an equitable process for distribution of funding based on needs identified in the PHN’s health needs assessment.

Key increases in rural support and services identified from 2015 to 2022 included:

  • Over $5 million spent in response to drought, bushfires and COVID-19
  • Over $2.5 million invested in grants to meet local community needs
  • 3.8 times greater expenditure on mental health services
  • 72.2% increase in Health Pathways localised to rural areas
  • 6 .2 times more funding dedicated to Aboriginal Health Services
  • 200% increase in funding for drug and alcohol services

A health needs assessment is a process used to identify unmet health and healthcare needs of a population, and present options for work that can be done to address these needs and improve the health of the population. The PHN Health Needs Assessment is undertaken every four years and involves extensive consultation with communities and key stakeholders in the HNECC PHN region including the PHN’s Board, Clinical Advisory Committee and Community Advisory Committee. National and local health data are also analysed to complement the consultation process and gain a thorough understanding of health needs.

Below is a snapshot of the HNECC PHN region:

  • Life Expectancy for males: 78.9 years (Australia: 80.4 years)
  • Life Expectancy for females: 83.5 years (Australia: 84.5 years)
  • Our population is over 1.2 million
  • Our population is expected to increase by 19.5% by 2031
  • 19.1% of our population is aged 65 years and over
  • 5.4% identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
  • 12.4% are aged between 15-24 years old
  • There are 2 Local Health Districts, 31 public hospitals and 303 pharmacies
  • There are 9 Aboriginal Medical Services in our region
  • There are 410 General Practices in our region with 1,250 GPs.
Rural or regional communities within our PHN

The following local government areas have been identified as rural or regional communities within our PHN:

  • Cessnock
  • Armidale Regional
  • Moree Plains
  • Dungog
  • Glen Innes Severn
  • Narrabri
  • Singleton
  • Gwydir
  • Tenterfield
  • Upper Hunter Shire
  • Gunnedah
  • Tamworth Regional
  • Mid Coast
  • Inverell
  • Uralla
  • Walcha
  • Muswellbrook

Primary health care supports, and services delivered to rural and remote communities include:

Commissioned Services

HNECC PHN does not provide health care services, instead it funds health care providers to deliver a rang of primary health care services that are appropriate and relevant to the needs of their communities. The funding process is undertaken through a commissioning process which is a real-time change process, moving the local health system towards more sustainable models of care.

In 2022, 19 types of services were commissioned by HNECC PHN, which ranged from mental health, primary care nurses, allied health, drug and alcohol, general practice support, health literacy improvements as well as aged care support. During the 2021 -22 financial year HNECC PHN commissioned more than $80 million dollars in contract value of services across the region.

Special Projects and Partnerships

HNECC PHN works with local primary health care providers, Hunter New England Local Health District and Community Managed Organisations to meet local health care needs across its region. Thirteen special projects and seven alliance projects were supported by HNECC PHN in the 2021 -22 financial year, with over $1 million invested by the PHN across the region. Special projects range from addressing resilience, access to healthcare, general practice support, health literacy and refugee resettlement. Alliance projects involve a partnership with Hunter New England Local Health District (HNE LHD) for joint work on best models of care for diabetes, COPD, palliative care, dementia and perinatal care.

First Nations Health Initiatives

A fundamental step towards improving health outcomes for First Nations people is to assist the mainstream health system to better understand and incorporate First Nations culture and customs. A First Nations health needs assessment is also undertaken in the HNECC PHN region, to help guide the organisation’s First Nations health initiatives.

In 2022, there were seven First Nations specific health initiatives that included mental health services, support for improved cultural safety in primary health care and support for First Nations health workers.

Six of the initiatives commenced after 2015, with an additional $4.8 million invested in First Nations health initiatives in 2022 across the region.

Health Professional Support

HNECC PHN offer a range of programs and services for general practice and allied health professionals

to enhance the quality and timeliness of care provided to patients, and to build capacity within healthcare practices to provide quality care. Since 2015, eleven new activities have commenced to support health professionals within the HNECC PHN region. These activities range from quality improvement in practices to GP support services and education on relevant health related topics. Over 15,000 health professionals attended PHN education related events in 2022, compared to 2015.

PHN Funded Grants

To support PHN’s vision of Healthy People and Healthy Communities there is a tailored grants program to support key community needs. The PHN grants program commenced in 2019 with over $2.5 million invested in grants that address needs within rural and remote communities.

Stakeholder Engagement

To undertake a health needs assessment and develop appropriate projects that address those needs, HNECC

PHN are directed by its Board, Community Advisory Committees and Clinical Councils. Each groups’ members live and work in all areas of the HNECC PHN region and understand their community primary health care needs.

Stakeholders that aren’t a member of the various PHN committees communicate with the PHN through a Peoplebank webpage and outgoing PHN communication is through a PatientInfo website and other common communication platforms.

Peoplebank is an online consultation tool that was established in 2016 and now has more than 34,000 people who access it each financial year. PatientInfo is a website that was created in partnership with HNE Kids Health and HNE LHD. The site aims to help people understand and manage their health conditions and does not replace care provided by doctors and other health professionals.

Disaster Response

Disaster can have a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of affected communities and individuals. HNECC PHN have responded to the 2018-19 drought, 2019- 20 bushfires and 2021-22 floods by providing additional mental health and wellbeing support to those impacted by disaster within the PHN’s region. These supports have ranged from wellbeing grants, easier mental health treatment plan access and increased mental health services.

HNECC PHN’s response to COVID-19 has involved supporting primary health care professionals to be prepared and respond appropriately during the pandemic. Support has ranged from assisting the establishment of local Respiratory Clinics, providing free counselling services for general practice staff and allied health professionals as well as offering a free telehealth platform for General Practices to use during the pandemic.

Over $5 million was invested in rural and remote communities in response to disasters that have impacted the HNECC PHN region. These responses included bushfire and drought community wellbeing grants; expansion of mental health services; establishment of GP-led Respiratory Clinics; telehealth grants and support for health professionals and residential aged care facilities support.

In Summary

Primary health care support has substantially increased in rural and remote areas of the HNECC PHN region.

Support has increased due to conducting an effective health needs assessment as well as the implementation of an equitable process to distribute funding. Since 2015, HNECC PHN have been responsive to community needs that change, by applying a model that allows its contracts to adapt to those changes. The PHN also quickly responds to disasters through providing appropriate primary health care support to various stakeholders with an aim to achieve the organisation’s goal of healthy people and healthy communities.

A Timeline of Rural and Regional Projects

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